‘The Golden Girls’ Star Bea Arthur Explained Why ‘Maude’ Was ‘Such a Groundbreaker’

by Josh Lanier

The Golden Girls star Bea Arthur built a career out of being tough-but-funny. Her characters had tongues sharper than spears, and she’d wield it on anyone who tried to get something past her. And a lot of that began with Maude.

Arthur played the titular Maude, an acerbic and strong-headed feminist who spoke her mind and wouldn’t back down. The opening theme song laid out the premise fairly well. Norman Lear created the character as a counterpoint to Archie Bunker. Maude was a spin-off of All in the Family. But like Bunker, Arthur’s character said and did things considered taboo for television in the 1970s.

Arthur spoke about it in her one-woman show Bea Arthur on Broadway – Just Between Friends.

“In terms of comedy, Maude was a real groundbreaker. A real groundbreaker. Meaning, that every week on the third day of rehearsal we would have to read the entire script to the network censor. 

“And then, poor Norman would say, ‘Look, Bea has to say that word. I will cut that word. I’ll cut that sentence. I’ll cut that whole area, but she has to say that word.’ I remember once I was supposed to say ‘son of a b****.’ They wouldn’t let me do it. I ended up saying ‘son of a witch.’”

Bea Arthur Said ‘Maude’ Stands Test of Time

In an interview in 2001, Bea Arthur said when she watches episodes of Maude today, she’ll still be astonished by what they were able to create.

“I mean we been we did great shows, the writing was wonderful, and the acting and the joy,” she told the Television Foundation Academy. “And everyone contributed. You know it was never — there were never any egos involved or anything. It was just pure unadulterated fun but it was hard work, it’s hard work.”

She loved working with the cast especially. She and Rue McClanahan would join up again for The Golden Girls, as would some of the writers from Maude. And that’s ultimately why Arthur believes those shows remained popular in syndication years after production ended. There was talent at every level.

“But, I tell you, for me, for me TV was so creatively rewarding,” she said in her Broadway show. “Both with Golden Girls and with Maude. Working with such talented people. You know, the writers, the directors, the producers. Doing material that was bright and literate and original and adult and daring.”